Following the post 'Torture, the Whole Thing' last Thursday, I was pleased to hear from William Todd Schultz, the author of the Dinae Arbus book An Emergency in Slow Motion, who I quoted extensively in the post. Responding to some of your comments, he wrote:
For the fun of it I'd like to address a few things said. It's interesting how so many people seem to dislike any attempt to interpret art, no matter how informed or perceptive. It's as if art ought to always stand utterly alone, with no context, no meaning-making, just pure perception. My feeling is that what keeps art alive is exactly interpretation—talking about it, speculating about it. And I don't present my thoughts on Arbus as if they are undoubtedly correct or certainly right etc. So I'm not assuming special authority—although I did research her life in great detail, obviously. They are just my angle, my take, on the images. You can accept them as partially correct if you find them convincing, or you can dismiss them if you don't. Fine by me. But the images do come from a mind. Arbus was definitely after something specific in her shots. So to speculate as to motive is not off base. To me it never is. But that's another point.
And I know arms akimbo means hands on hips! Horrified I made that error. Thanks for pointing it out!
And thanks for the thoughts.
Next, our friend Kevin Purcell contributes this researched explanation regarding the book's lack of illustrations (and neatly ties it into our recent discussion of copyright, in the Slater's Macaque posts):
I remember reading the Acknowledgments in Geoff Dyer's The Ongoing Moment. He said this after acknowledging:
I finished writing this book in June 2004; little did I know that this meant the drudgery, tedium and frustration of trying to find and obtain permission to reproduce photographs would now begin in earnest.
Dywer then thanks many people for providing photography for a large number of photographers then he finishes with
For its failure to come closer to that ideal the frustrated reader can thanks those responsible for the pictures—by Robert Frank, Roy DeCarava and Diane Arbus—most conspicuous by their absence.
The acknowledgement of Diane Arbus: A Biography by Patricia Bosworth also comments that she couldn't get permission from the Arbus Estate to reproduce images.
This 2003 article in the New York Times explains why:
Doon Arbus was 26 when Diane died. As the older daughter of a divorced mother, she took on the responsibility of managing the estate. Her response to the critics was to clamp the spigot shut. Arbus's letters, journals and diaries could not be examined. Anyone wishing to reproduce Arbus photographs would have to submit the book or article for Doon's vetting; any museum contemplating a retrospective had to enlist her active collaboration. In almost all cases, permission was denied. Unsurprisingly, critics and scholars fumed. As Anthony W. Lee, the co-author of a new academic treatise, "Diane Arbus: Family Albums," puts it in an acid footnote, ''Those familiar with the writings on Arbus's photographs will recognize a common thread that joins them all, which this essay also shares: nearly all are published without the benefit of reproductions of some of her most famous work.''
This is the downside to an estate inheriting the copyright of their ancestors' photographs.
My thanks to William and Kevin for these illuminations.
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Featured Comments from:
Rod S.: "Thanks for the exposure to William's book and for including his response here. It's given me some insight into Arbus's photography. I appreciate informed and intelligent insights—even speculation—into a photographer's life and work. Often, photographers are not good at explaining themselves, and their intention can be lost if only a small representation of the work is seen. Of course, the insight and speculation must be grounded with evidence for it to be credible, and a good writer will bring the evidence to life. Now I feel I have some understanding to bring to Arbus's photographs, and some reason to seek it out."